Lent with Lentils 

 It’s the first of forty. Days when one resists the temptations of sin, prays and abstains from all forms of luxuries as an offer form of penance. It’s Lent. While most of us are reeling in from the fun and frolic of the Carnaval that went by, I find myself in a rather precarious position at the start of this holy month. In Singapore for work, and my abstinence in the form of an autocratic and totalitarian option of vegetarian meals is an interesting story in itself. A confluence and blend of cultures and a stirring hotspot of multiple nationalities – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesia and Western influences, the food is diverse. Many lip smacking; mouth-watering dishes surround you as you enter China town- much like the temptations of Christ’s walk in the desert for 40 days and nights being tempted by the devil himself- my grandmothers bedtime story version, may her soul rest in peace. 

Focusing on food as one item to abstain from, its rather difficult when one gets an aromatic whiff of pork and mutton skewers being chargrilled by the roadside not to mention a leaner option in the steamed chicken rice cooked in chicken stock and the Hard shell chilli crabs with that taste bud tickler of a Katong laksa- rice noodles in spicy coconut curry soup with shrimp, fish cakes, egg and chicken meat!

However this is not about any of the above. It’s an account of a weak willed admitter to a world of gastronomic carnal sin- a food survival guide in Singapore. After some soul searching, I stumble upon Whole Earth- a Michelin BIB Gourmand Award winner in the heart of the city. An interesting concept much like the Trick eye museum of Sentosa where one gets to challenge and bend their imagination. What if I told you I ordered the Handmade Honey Ribs. First reactions, people. Blasphemy!! Sacrilege, Ill never get into the pearly white gates now. Quite the sinner, huh? However this is one their masterpiece creations with a myriad of ingredients including monkey head & shitake mushrooms, quite the Indiana jones version with lotus root, individually hand rolled to perfection and glazed in harmony with a delightful blend of honey sauce. MY conundrum has never been about the food, rather what can be consumed by one and all. That’s where the devil lies- finding the protein in everything I eat, given the strenuous workouts and heavy energy laden activities one has to endure as a traveller. 

Enter the holy trinity of super foods that I have come to depend on especially in times like these. Why lazy? Seeds, yes like a bird- including flax, chia, sesame, and sunflower, are packed with protein and “good” fats with a nutty taste to them, with flax being more prominent. Both flax and chia seeds contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants. These are available in a myriad of flavors and allow me to ditch the potato chip packets as a snack in between meals. Next is the Beans & Legumes. The combination of beans and rice make for a great complete protein. Beans and lentils, of course, also provide you with the necessary carbohydrate aspects for overall sustenance.

 The trifecta ends with another Super seed. In 2013, the UN declared and dedicated an entire year to this seed. Quinoa. A complete protein, it consists of all nine of the essential amino acids the body can’t always produce on its own. Also look at the abundance in variety. Did you know? There are over 120 varieties of quinoa! Here’s one of my easy to make preparations- the Pineapple Fried Quinoa. All you need is 1 cup of uncooked quinoa, 2 cups water, 1 Tablespoon coconut oil, 1 medium finely chopped onion, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 Tablespoons of fresh minced ginger, 1.5 teaspoons dried red chili pepper flakes, 3/4 cup peas, 1 diced red, 1.5 cups of fresh pineapple and you are ready to go. This is a great family snack and serves 4. Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Set aside and cover it for 10 minutes. Add the coconut oil to a pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes and cook for about 3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the peas, bell pepper, and pineapple, and cook over high-heat for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pineapple just starts to caramelize. Add in the cooked quinoa, liquid and some cilantro for extra zing. Mix well and cook for an additional minute and voila. 

Till we meet next, have a blessed season.

 

 

 

 

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mr. NObody and The Goan 

Hello one and all. Currently living out of my suitcase, managed to have a lovely chat with the folks at The Goan recently. 

A lovely tete-e-tete with Kurt Bento about the world of mr. NObody and his views on the world of gastronomy. 

The full interview with mr. NObody. 
  

What prompted you to do this culinary journey to different cities and countries over the past months? And where do you go? 

mr. NObody is a lifestyle blogger,showcasing travel and food from India and the world. This year the focus is on quest for the Michelin trail and South East Asia as a region. So far he has travelled to Dubai for the ‘Eat the World Food  Festival’ followed by a Michelin starred restaurant by Vineet Bhatia and Bangkok for another two starred chef. A few institutional restaurants were on the list which included Bread Street by Gordon Ramsey, Zuma in Abu Dhabi and Long table in Bangkok. 

You’re mr. NObody,aren’t you? Why the avatar? 

I grew up in a world where everyone places a value on self importance. Everyone today is a somebody or wishes to be one. With a pun on the word NO- Nolan and heavily inspired by the lyrics of Marilyn manson and his song ‘The Nobodies‘ growing up, the character was born. It’s my satirical take on the importance of man. 

You’ve been to some interesting and new innovative places in Mumbai/Delhi, tell us about them. 

Interesting would be an understatement. Some insanely creative, to knock ones senses silly. For example, Ziya in Mumbai – for a special preview of the Jugalbandi festival comprising of three Michelin starred chefs coming to blend Italian, India and Far East Asian (Japanese predominately) for a 8 course meal of gastronomic delights, with a touch of class or panache eating on a limited edition gold plated crockery from Italy. A true master piece of opulence and flavorsume creativity; indeed. 

The crowd in Mumbai/Delhi respond to new places, new innovations in food etc. Goa doesn’t have that big a market base, so do you think we’ll ever see that kind of innovation here?

Mumbai and Delhi are the yin & yang sisters of the culinary food world. The buzz is eclectic, vibrant and cut throat thus raising the standards of the consumers culinary palate. Restauranteurs bring their ‘A’game, day in and out in order to survive, let alone thrive. The consumers are globally aware- hence being up to date and abreast of the latest happenings is a must. A concept is only good for an few years, at most,as most customers fatigue of the same as soon as they have adopted the same.  A few restaurants however have stood the test of time and retained their legacy till date. For upcoming entrepreneurs it’s an exciting time to get into the culinary field indeed. A challenge ,so to speak with a huge payoff if done right. Goa;  I am pleased to note is opening up to the same given the same customer base who flock to the location as a relaxing party destination. Speciality restaurants are sprouting up and I have been witness to an iota of the innovations at standalone and starred properties alike. So, I am quite pleased. 

With the advent of social media and the Internet, identifying a Michelin recipe demonstration and trying ones hand at it, has become accessible. Many creative chefs here have showcased their wares which I have highlighted in a dedicated article on my blog. 

Your experience at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant in Dubai was interesting. Tell us about that. 



For starters, no food was thrown out the kitchen, neither did it have anyone leave for the main door crying. Then again its probably cause he was at the Oscars during my visit there.

 On a serious note, I have had a brief meeting with him earlier and he is a gem of a person. I was amazed for a multitude of reasons. First, the simplicity in a world of complexity and too much happening on ones plate. His ethos is simple. Wholesome food to be shared is the motto. The portions are huge. There is no fancy plating-just presentable. 

The kitchen is a dream and its line mechanism is splendid to the view of an orchestra pyramid setting. After all dishing out service that ensures ones order reaches the table in under 7 minutes for a 400 odd seater restaurant- is symphony at play. 

The little nuances- details from subliminal design to belt buckles of the server being the Union Jack flag, adds the finness to a well oiled machine and keen eye. 5 dishes consumed including dessert and my meal ended before it started- In 30 minutes flat. Quite an interesting case study. 

Tell us about Michelin and its latest craze that has gripped many foodies around.  

It’s interesting you ask that question. What I love about Michelin is the origination of the concept. How a tyre company got into the world of food and being reverred as one of the most sought after institutions to be associated with. In my limited tryst with a few chefs associated with it, it’s the level of commitment and creativity in the subjectivity of cuisine and marrying a few to create ‘nuvo cuisine’ that drives them. 

It’s exhilarating to see the passion exuded in the quest for something that is terrifying as well as visually stimulating as some foods do not play well with others. A dish could go completely awry and that’s the risk they take day in and out, to get the perfect concoction. A work of edible art in a matter of speaking. Also another philosophy I truly appreciate is the concept of less is more. Given today’s need to try and sample as much as one can digest in one sitting, emphasis of less is more in a portion- is something they are masters off. 

This adds to a lot of creativity as well as a whole rounded meal as a by product, leaving the customer to experience a holistic dining experience while at it. 

 What is the common thread with modern restaurants today. How do they change things up?

Restauranting today is evolving into an art form for many. Visual appeal is the call for hour in an age of Instagram and social media. ‘Eat with ones eyes‘ is the moniker many restraunteer folk are banking on. And everyone, (self included) is on a Michelin sojourn- to experiment, pair and follow the latest trends of mixing and pairing cuisines from across the world. It’s a format that is adopted which is acceptable to many. Small and precise with immense visual appeal to intice the wow factor in consumers. 

Having said that its great to see the level of creativity used to make dining an ‘experience‘ instead of just dishing out voluminous plates of curries and gravies with side garnishes as an after thought measure. The trend indeed,is, in a momentous change for the better. 

South East Asian food is always light and healthy. Can we learn from the Thais and Malaysians when it comes to creating healthier and lighter food? 

I believe it’s universal. Leaving aside an ethnicity of sorts, many cultures have hidden treasures which are globally adopted. Take for example Greek and Mediterranean food. It’s light. Filled with wholesome goodness from the oils to salads made. 

In my opinion, a big error in the past,in the Indian context was the trifecta of oil, sugar & salt and loads of spice plastered across dishes to make it platable for the end consumer. This would be wrong on so many levels as the flavour emitted from certain meats and vegetables would get lost in the preparation. That trend is nearly extinct due to change in pattern of the evolved customer who are adapting to a lighter, less portioned served healthier lifestyle of dishes. The calorie conscious customer is defining the trend these days. 

What’s your go to cuisine, apart from Goan food? And if you had a chance to cook just one dish for your culinary idol, what would it be? Are you a good cook, btw? 

mr. NObody is a culture vulture. In a current frame of mind, I am fresh off Thai herbs and spices and am tripping on pad Thai noodles- relished at an ashram in Thailand. However right before that I was in love with the simplistic spice rub on a lovely kebab in Abu Dhabi. Thyme and herbs salt rubbed on succulent meats grilled to perfection. 

However, I love to experiment with salads and greens as a daily detox diet when I’m not working my tastebuds to the ground. Cooking for my culinary idol is tough one. First and foremost living in a household of food writers and hospitality professionals my writing is under scrutiny let alone my cooking skills. 

For those who know me, my love for barbecues is paramount. So it would probably be something on the spit with a refreshing mock tail/cocktail for company. Perhaps a good oriental seasoning rub over a local fish. 

A good cook? One and all are invited over and let me know your thoughts post. 

And then there was ‘Light’

This is going to be a pictorial representation for the primary purpose of ‘art’. After all, art, is interpretive and can never be solely explained. Whilst the dishes do the talking, I shall parallel echo my sentiments of a night at Ziya at the Oberoi Mumbai. Persian for ‘splendour & light’ and the labor of love from thrice Michelin star Chef Vineet Bhatia this restaurant is tastefully clad in its statement for understated regality. 

This being my second meal at the hands of a Michelin chef and being quite the avid follower of a few starred restaurants, I arrive early. After all, it only takes a few months to procure a reservation at these establishments when abroad and,I ,suffer from being German about time. The restaurant is being set for the big culinary ‘Jugalbandi’ night ahead. Prep and checks are being made between the Chef & Manpreet Kaur Dhody- the commandeer restaurant-in-charge for the evening. Everything has to be perfect. I’be been told it’s a one sitting affair (just the way chef wanted it).  

Rested in plush opulence with Chef Vineet’s book in hand, the dominant color of the evening is clearly ‘Gold’. I felt under dressed however my Iphone6 was at ease in the surroundings,playing its part all decked up in its gold case. Attention to detail is at its minutest best. From the 24 karat gold plated cutlery, (a limited placed order from the crockery house in Italy – Industria Vetraria Valdarnese Italyin of only 200 sets) to the ceilings adorned with 24 karat leaf gold paper there is a pattern at play. 

Attention to details has mr. NObody be a ‘somebody’ that evening. 

I am engrossed in the book, till the time I am ushered to meet the man himself, Chef Vineet- a gentle and unassuming culinary extraordinaire. His kind eyes and gentle smile put me at ease instantaneously thus avoiding any faux pas, I was about to commit. A brief discussion has him explain his humble beginnings and awe inspiring story of how he started out peeling 200 potatoes in this very kitchen many moons ago, only to head the same restaurant today. Humility and simplicity at its best. 

I was explained that tonight’s Jugalbandi was at the hands of Chef Adriano Baldassarre, Chef Rubén Santos and himself with a confluence of Indian, Japanese and Italian flavors over a 5 course menu. 

 24 karat gold plated cutlery (200 piece limited set) 

I am escorted to my table and requested at my own pace to inform my attendant as and when ready to begin. I try to hold back my glee and over enthusiasm and gently whisper ‘please begin‘ in the most monotone baroque voice possible. Pulled that off rather well, might I add.

Each plating had a story to tell. It was well explained and to the point. The San Danielle ham and Parmesan maki with a roll of saffron khichdi and sweet shitake was something I would relate to an extra marital affair (not that I would know off first hand, hearsay at best). Two pieces of sinful delight each captivating my senses over the other. The Good wife vs the provocative mistress and before ones knows it, the affair consumes you onto the next course.  

San Danielle ham & Parmesan maki

It is the season for porcini mushrooms in Italy all this month. And yes, I know a few Italians who are anal in their consumption of the freshest produce and dining with them have learnt to expect the same. It’s simple,wholesome living yet plentiful as to how structured they are in their eating habits. 

The Miso porcini soup hit the spot. The pairing of the crunchy shrimp fritters over sun dried tomato chutney, struck a perfectly poised balance between the two. My use of the gold cutlery for the first time did have an awkward geek moment wherein I wrestled with the thought of taking a selfie, luckily the deer in headlight stare from my observant server had me compose myself at the awkward immediate last second. Missed my selfie-Darnnit!!!

Miso Porcini soup 
 

The next course was a delicate Chilli & Burnt garlic Chilean Seabass. Accompanied with a dust of carbon mash (yes you heard right carbon!!), zucchini scapesce and black bean sauce this was a treat to the senses being paired with the 2002 Chateau Margaux. You do not want to know the price of a bottle- (hint; it runs into the six figure range INR). 

What is amazing and refreshing is the art on display at the table in perfectly sized portions. Not too little not too much. Each dish presents itself with a story that arrests me. To others, on several occasions I might have looked like a gawking Buffon, as I marvel and reveal in these painstakingly handcrafted pieces- a part of me not wishing to consume it and bid it farewell but another craving to devour it the minute it arrives. Due respect must be adhered too merely as protocol. We shall let Mr Hyde slumber for now. 

Chilli & Burnt garlic Chilean seabass 

After a refreshing ginger sorbet to cleanse the palate with some fine Moet poured over it, I took a few minutes to digest and read the crafted menu more elaborately. And the last line arrested me. ‘Close your eyes and explore a myriad of sensory dimensions’. Indeed. 

However I had to move along to the next course. The Curry leaf and crusted lamb loin with spaghetti puttanesca, sesame wasabi pak choy steamed white asparagus. 

By the time, I was playing Sherlock trying to deduce associating the dishes to the personalities of the chefs inside. On a wild note, I’ve been chased down the streets of Rome for the misunderstanding of the word ‘putta‘ so I find it hilariously funny when spoken about spaghetti that way. 

Curry leaf and crusted lamb loin   

I have taken the liberty to articulate this last piece of culinary art as the Art Platter. Though the name is as simplistic as the concept behind it Chef Vineet calls it the Matcha- rasmalai cheesecake, Coconut panna cotta, Matcha chocolate truffle and black sesame Kulfi. I just stared and then some upon its presentation, and wondered how Chef managed to get a rasmalai in between a cheesecake!?! 

Simple, yet awe inspiring and brilliantly executed. Perfect and moist right down the centre. The chocolate truffle was a loaded cannon with the explosion hitting all the sensory spots. And the cute puzzle moulds of Panna cotta and kulfi were a playful delight. 

Art platter  

Indeed an enlightening affair. Thank you Chef’s and the entire team. 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography Shot on IPhone 6 

A Fish in the Bay

Living in a place that’s synonymous with fish, it’s hard to outdo oneself. Every second restaurant in and around Goa serves some lip smacking seafare and each have their own signatures attached. Another thing that strikes me is the consumption of fish near the sea. Ever wonder the irony of it. But one can always fall in love with the tranquility and solitude Bay 15 has to offer. A property with a view indeed. 

This evening was a delight at the hands of Chef Mir Hafizur Raheman the executive chef of this fine establishment. Under new management of the Justa group, i was told there was something new in store. With the thrashing melodious sound of the waves against the rocks with the pale moonlight we were in for a 5 course treat. 

Mediterranean cuisine is hard to dish out in this fair state with many plying their wares and trades with pomp and gusto. It’s a Herculean task to get something out that wow’s the eyes even before you dig into that first succulent bite. Everyone is doing it. What makes one different? When asked -Chef Raheman, a rather quiet character with his elf impish like smile said it all with his carefully crafted Tandoori Marinated Red Snapper. 

Let me assure you eating with ones eyes was the brief for the evening. I was overjoyed as how I normally am when I visit the Harley Davidson showroom and this was a first as far as food plating goes. Carefully and sinfully plated, it played and toyed with you to dig in instantly like a knee jerk reaction. Every single fiber in ones hand had to refrain from tugging in to destroy each masterpiece. Chef Raheman  having learnt from some of the Michellin star chefs carefully sits with me and dissects his piece de resistance. 

The fish -fresh and the tandoori marinade was perfect. But what enthralled me was the condiments added to it, giving that extra zing. Served with eggplant caviar, a lace of katchumbar salad and potato sesame Tikki -it’s an aromatic play date of an Indian meeting a Mediterranean beauty from some exotic locale in a plate. What’s more, it’s beautifully inspired. 

The fish falls off the fork and is quite a task, as I stumble in front of a lovely date for company. Luckily the light was dim so I didn’t make a complete fool of myself. The Tikki though firm was succulent. And the eggplant caviar take a bow. I’m not a fan of aubergine by any stroke of imagination. However this took the cake quite literally (no pun intended on the way it was presented I assure you.) 

Tandoori marinated Red Snapper  Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

While you sample this masterpiece might I suggest trying the Lamb chop Barrah a spicy Indian flavoured marinated lamb served with lentil khichdi minty pea purée and haricot. I haven’t forgotten all you sweet tooth lovers the Chocolate Chilli Baked Yogurt with Kurbani ka Meetha is something up your alley. 

The net is cast and I’m roped into the gastronomic visual delight on offer here. Kudos to the creativity of the Chef. 

Salut till I come again.